Going mobile is the right direction for 2022 and onward, research suggests! So it’s only right that you’ve decided to invest in a mobile app of your own. But now some complicated questions may arise: should you insource or outsource, which platforms should you target, which programming language should you choose, etc.
Previously, we wrote a comprehensive piece on how to choose the right type of app for your business, and today, we are talking about languages. In particular, three of the most in-demand languages for mobile development these days:
- Kotlin (used for Android),
- Swift (designed for iOS programming),
- and Flutter (bringing the best of both worlds through cross-platform development).
But before we proceed with this ultimate mobile comparison, let’s quickly recall the main differences between native and cross-platform solutions.
Native vs cross-platform mobile app development
Native mobile solutions
As the name suggests, native applications are bound to the platform they’re designed for. As such, if you write an app for Android, it will only function on that operating system. And if you eventually decide to scale up and target Apple devices, your development team will have to write a new code for scratch.
This is why it’s paramount to know why you chose a certain operating system over another. Otherwise, you are risking your entire business.
A good recent example of a native app would be Clubhouse that was only available for iOS users, leaving the rest of the people behind. A bold move, given that Android has over 70% of the global market share. However, if you are certain that your target audience is devoted to Apple, you get to significantly cut expenses and time to market with a native application.
Cross-platform, in turn, allows you to write code in such a way that the app you develop will look and feel exactly the same on both iOS and Android devices. It is a perfect solution for businesses targeting general audiences or markets where both operating systems are equally represented.
Cross-platform is a safer option, yet it is also more costly and time-consuming than native app development, which is why you need to know exactly what you hope to achieve with your application in the end. That’s where knowing the key differences between the most popular programming languages for mobile comes into play.
Kotlin vs Swift vs Flutter: overview
If you find yourself in a situation where choosing between native or cross-platform development won’t make much of a difference to your business profit-wise, it is wise to take a look at how demanding each technology could get.
There’s no better way to do so than learning about the major advantages and disadvantages of the language your development team will be working on.
Supported platforms and operating systems
Web frontend development
Custom embedded systems
Swift is widely recognised as the best possible option for the Apple platform when it comes to quality and functionality. With this language, you can write a single code that will work across all the iOS devices (e.g. mobile, tablet, desktop, wearables, smart TV, etc.) without sacrificing any of the functionalities.
Some of the popular apps using Swift are LinkedIn, Kickstarter, Eventbrite, and more.
Since Google I/O 2017, Kotlin has been the main language for Android applications. Similarly to Swift it allows you to share the same code between different platforms (e.g. mobile apps, wearables, Android TV, or Android Auto). Apart from its wide native Android use, Kotlin can also be in server-side solutions and web frontend development, making it an accessible cross-platform choice.
Flutter, on the other hand, is a 100% cross-platform framework dedicated to writing clean native-like code simultaneously for Android and iOS applications. Flutter supports a wide range of platforms while still relying on native code. Its versatility and speedy implementation make it one of the most popular cross-platform frameworks today.
While Flutter is a very young framework, it’s already used by some of the world’s favourite brands, such as Google, Groupon, Philips, and more. Miquido has been among the first companies to adopt Flutter in its tech stack and relied on it to complete our crown jewel – the Topline app for the Abbey Road Studios.
Pros and cons of each language for business owners and developers
Now that we’re done with the basics and you have a better understanding of what each language has to offer, it’s time to get more specific.
For those of you interested in the final outcome of your project, we made sure to include the business-oriented aspects of Kotlin, Swift, and Flutter. And for the tech whizzes out there, we also didn’t forget about the actual functionalities and specific features each language has to offer.
So buckle up! It’s time to choose the best language for your next digital product!
The advantages and disadvantages of Swift
Swift is a strong alternative to Objective-C – the former crown king of iOS development. It comes with some fantastic business-oriented benefits:
- Swift allows using the latest Apple OS features on Apple platforms (Apple actively promotes apps following their guidelines in ads, stores, and even during keynotes).
- It supports platform-specific APIs andy system extensions which allows you to invest in one shared code for all the Apple-powered platforms you want to target at once while maintaining their native feel at the same time
- Swift is also known to cause the least problems upon releases and app reviews. This is a very important point to keep in mind since Apple is very restrictive on app content, behaviour and API usage.
- It is designed in such a way, that if a new OS update introduces any significant software changes, the Swift code can be easily adapted thanks to its high compatibility.
- Compared to Objective-C and other native languages, Swift stands out with its immaculate app performance and optimisation when it comes to the launch time, resource usage (including battery) and the final size of app files.
As such, Swift is a convenient choice for pro-Apple digital solutions as it knows how to bypass the complex screening process and won’t fall victim to regular OS updates.
Yet, let’s not get carried away, because we still have two other languages to review and Swift comes with its share of drawbacks as well:
- Swift relies on platform-specific code which cannot be easily reused outside of the Apple ecosystem (e.g. for Android and web solutions). This is why, if you know you’ll be targeting non-Apple users it’s best to choose another technology for your product.
- Swift specialists need to rely on programming languages used almost exclusively for the Apple platform which causes them to be much less common than, let’s say, Java developers.
- Due to its limited applicability, Swift doesn’t have strong tooling and technical background from domains other than mobile. It sometimes results in a lack of tooling equivalent to other languages or their worse quality. With the lack of good industry standards compared to more popular languages (such as Java) there may occur difficulties with large and/or complex applications. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make big and complex apps natively – you can, it is simply more demanding in some cases.
Benefits and drawbacks of Kotlin
When it comes to Kotlin, it is important to also mention Java – the old standard for Android (and other) mobile applications. So when we look at all the benefits it has to offer, it is important to highlight:
- Kotlin is interoperable with Java. It is consistent with Java and many other related frameworks and tools. This allows the developers to use Kotlin in Java projects and develop new features in Kotlin at the same time.
- Kotlin can reduce the amount of code enormously, thus providing you with a cleaner project that is easier to read, understand, and take over if necessary.
- Built and supported by JetBrains, the company behind the IDEs, such as Android Studio and IntelliJ, Kotlin is open-source, so the community has a big impact on new features and bug fixes.
- Kotlin’s syntax is simple and even a beginner developer can grasp it relatively quickly. At the same time, the language offers sophisticated powerful features for experienced programmers, so that everyone gets their share of fun.
- Kotlin helps developers avoid a lot of bugs that were very common in Java.
The compiler can identify every possible mistake at compile-time without any hassle. The syntax takes care of reducing the number of possible errors(e.g. Elvis Operator). As a result, it turns Kotlin into a safer alternative to Java.
At the same time, there are certain things to look out for while choosing Kotlin as your programming language of choice:
- Even though Kotlin and Java share a number of similarities, they have some prominent differences as well. Kotlin has a lot of new features that don’t exist in Java, which makes it a harder but much more modern language.
- Kotlin runs faster than Java in some cases, especially when doing incremental builds. But when it comes to clean builds, Java will always be faster.
Flutter: the good and the bad
When it comes to Flutter, it has a lot of benefits to bring to your business. Arguably, even more so than an alternative cross-platform framework would. However, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s still a very young framework that has its share of drawbacks and improvements.
- Flutter is known for its remarkably fast time-to-market abilities. Due to both intuitive code syntax and a pleasant work environment for developers, projects written with Flutter hit the stores faster.
- After its Flutter 2.0 update, the language now supports all the crucial platforms and operating systems without requiring any additional costs from the product owner.
- The industry leaders provide regular and in-depth backup for the language, which speaks both to its future potential and current quality of development.
- Flutter is very easy to learn, which is why a company shouldn’t have a problem with retraining its current Android and iOS developers to use Flutter instead if such need shall arise.
- Flutter is packed with unique features, such as hot-reload with state persistence, which allows a developer to see changes in his code in real-time, without having to restart their app
- Both App and Google Play Stores are known to treat Flutter-based apps kindly without any harsh pre-examination or extensive verification
When it comes to the disadvantages of entrusting your next product idea to a Flutter development team, most of them originate from the fact that the language has only been founded in 2012 and hasn’t had much time to evolve yet:
- It is difficult to find senior Flutter developers simply because the programmers hadn’t had the chance to experiment with the language for a sufficient amount of time yet
- As a rule, Flutter developers are more expensive than native developers because they need to be experts in more than one platform
- Flutter has introduced web support, thus making itself a very comprehensive cross-platform language. However, its web-oriented toolset is still pretty limited and requires more work
- Many established languages, such as Java, thrive thanks to robust libraries available for any sort of request. Flutter does have its own community support and Google experts backing it up, however, its libraries are still nowhere near being complete
As you can see, there are many factors you need to consider before deciding on a specific language for your next digital product. Far too many factors, perhaps. That’s why we advise our clients to trust the vendor with the solution.
If you found this article complex and would need a more in-depth consultation regarding the best technology for your project, we’ll be happy to help!